Let’s Get Kraken!

I’m honestly getting real jealous seeing everyone and their brother posting mock expansion drafts for the Seattle Kraken. I’m a draft junkie at heart, which is why I waste time every year on researching college prospects for the NFL draft. I’m going to approach this one a little differently. This is because unlike an entry draft (where anything can happen) or ‘nam (there are rules), that only one team is doing the drafting and they have to take little things into consideration like the salary cap (*cough* Tampa Bay *cough*).

Here’s how this is going to unfold. First, let’s break down which players the Kraken have a “serious interest” in taking. This is from a variety of official and unofficial sources, all of which can be taken with a grain of salt. Second, we are going to look at the no-brainer locks (which of course could change if the team bribes Seattle to take someone else). Third, we are going to talk about the teams that don’t have anything useful to offer. Lastly, we are going to examine the real tough choices that are going to define the course of the draft. Just to be clear, this isn’t what I think Seattle should do, but rather what I think they will do. Strap yourself in!

Serious Interest

  1. FLA: Chris Driedger (G)

While it was rumored before today, it looked like Seattle has locked-in a starting/platoon goaltender. Since he was an unrestricted free agent from Florida, he will count against their expansion draft selection. 1 down, 29 more to go!

2. CHI: Nikita Zadorov (D)

I would rather have Calvin de Haan over Zadorov, but who am I? Zadorov checks the “physical” boxes (6’6″, 235 lbs) that GMs like to have on the blue line and there’s this…

3. CAR: Jake Bean (D)

I really, really, really want them to take Nino Niederreiter here. Although, there’s some serious rumblings about Jake Bean being the preferred choice for Ron Francis. Just look at his comps –

Now that we have a goaltender and 2 defensemen, let’s move on to the obvious and easy choices.

No-Brainer Picks

4. CGY: Mark Giordano (D)

There’s no need to beat a dead horse on this pick. Giordano is perfect captain material, plays 20+ minutes a night, boasts positives in offensive and defensive GAR/xGAR and has a manageable contract. He’s your top pairing LD until further notice.

5. CBJ: Max Domi (C, LW)

Domi has had some problems finding his groove. He was traded from MTL to CBJ for Josh Anderson and then left exposed in the expansion draft. With the right pieces around him, he could really shine – Jack Han gets it:

6. BUF: Colin Miller (D)

This pick is indicative of just how few enticing options Buffalo has to offer. There is no way they take the bait on Jeff Skinner or Kyle Okposo. Maybe they fall in love with Girgensons? However, I doubt it. Miller gives you a third-pairing RD or trade bait.

7. DET: Troy Stecher (D)

Good right-handed defensemen are hard to come by and Stecher is well-rounded in oGAR (1.4) and dGAR (2.5). I could see SEA sniffing around Namestnikov and Svechnikov, but only Stecher gives you maximum value with the pick.

8. MTL: Brett Kulak (D)

You were probably expected a different no-brainer selection, but Carey Price makes too much money to even enter into this conversation. The same can be said for Shea Weber. Drouin didn’t even play this season and while Byron is an analytics darling, his production isn’t worth the contract (3.4m) given his age (32). If I’m Ron Francis, I’m working the phones with UFA Tomas Tatar and using that as my selection.

9. NSH: Nick Cousins (LW, C)

Cousins took a tiny step back this past season in defensive efficiency, but still had an overall GAR of 5, won more than 50% of faceoffs and outperformed his contract (1.5m) for the fourth consecutive year. Plug him into the 3C and forget it. Calle Jarnkrok will garner some attention, but his performance has been much more volatile throughout his career.

10. NYI: Jordan Eberle (RW)

Yes, I know that Eberle is going to be 31 years old and gets paid 5.5 million for the next 3 years. If you think you’ll find a better deal in this expansion draft of a proven 1/2RW that makes under 7.5 million, I’ll wait. The dude can generate offense and pairing him with Domi or Gourde wouldn’t be fair.

11. PIT: Jason Zucker (LW)

I had Marcus Pettersson slotted in this selection the past few days, but finding a bone fide top-6 LW in this entry draft necessitates taking the power forward Zucker. He had a bad year this past season and that should be concerning, but I’m willing to bet it was an anomaly. Since breaking into the NHL in 2014, he’s only been a negative GAR player once. A change of scenery should help him rebound.

12. SJS: Ryan Donato (LW)

Here’s your bottom-6 LW. Radim Simek is interesting, but there’s just so many better left-handed defensemen available.

13. TBL: Yanni Gourde (C)

Here’s your 1C. Set it and forget it.

14. TOR: Jared McCann (LW, C) Alexander Kerfoot (C)

McCann was a member of the Leafs for less than a week. The Leafs traded for him as insurance against losing Kerfoot. Why would Seattle want Kerfoot when there’s a younger, cheaper and better version of him on the same roster? He has the ability to develop into a top-6 LW and cheap (2.94m) for another season. Then there’s this potential news:

Now that we’ve covered the obvious and linked players, the next set of teams don’t offer much in terms of value (right now), but could be a good way to build your future.

Can’t Mess This Up

15. ARI: Christian Fischer (RW)?

I had Adin Hill locked-in as the ‘Yotes pick for the past 2 months and then lo and behold they traded him to San Jose. Fisher played for Arizona this past season and I have no idea who half these guys are…

16. BOS: Jeremy Lauzon (D)?

This is a total crapshoot. Do they take a proven commodity in Kase or Ritchie or a prospect in Lauzon or Zboril? Maybe they grab a defensive forward and penalty-killing center in Curtis Lazar? I have no clue, maybe they sign Halak tomorrow to platoon with Driedger and spare us the drama.

17. COL: Joonas Donskoi (RW) or J.T. Compher (RW, C)

Colorado offers a couple of RWs, which one would you rather have?

oGARdGARxoGARxdGARPPOSHD
Player X9.9-1.28.9-0.34.5-0.3
Player Y5.10.35.2-0.31.90.2

Donskoi (X) offers much higher offensive upside with some defensive liability, while Compher (Y) is slightly better defensively and worse offensively. On special teams, Compher kills penalties but isn’t much better at it than Donskoi. The only wildcard is contract and age, with Donskoi 3 years older and 400k more expensive. Pick your poison. Either way we’ve addressed one of our middle-6 RW holes.

18. DAL: Pass. This is bad. Fine…Let’s take Nicholas Caamano (LW) and hope he develops.

Dallas dangled Ben Bishop, but honestly I’d rather have (*gasps*) Holtby based on his age (34) and contract (4.9m until 2023).

19. EDM: Tyler Benson (LW), maybe?

There’s a lot of buzz surrounding Tyler Benson, but the Kraken could just as easily take Dominik Kahun. Benson hasn’t played much at all in the NHL and Kahun has been a surprisingly good offensive player (xGAR of 5.3, 5.5 and 4 his past three seasons).

20. LAK: Any RFA with a pulse, like Carl Grundstrom (LW)

The Kings are offering very little in terms of value. I’ve plugged all of their exposed players into Evolving Hockey’s Dashboard and they have 0 players with a positive overall GAR. As long as they don’t take Olli Maatta, I don’t think Seattle can go wrong with Brendan Lemieux (below replacement value), Andreas Athanasiou (good offensively, bad defensively) or Austin Wagner (average at best).

21. NJD: AHL Forward, like Nathan Bastian (RW)

Don’t be lured by Subban or Will Butcher. Just take Merkley, Studenic, Gignac or Bastian and they’ll play in the AHL next year.

22. NYR: Julien Gauthier (RW) or Colin Blackwell (C)?

The Rangers gave nothing up this expansion draft. Just take the AHL forward with a year left on their contract and be happy about it.

23. OTT: ???

Dadonov is a good scorer with a semi-reasonable contract (5m). Tierney is a decent bottom-6 center. Joshua Brown is a fine 6/7D. They also have some goaltenders (not Matt Murray) that would be interesting too.

24. VAN: Braden Holtby (G)

Full disclosure: I am a fan of Holtby, enough so that I have his sweater (and I only have 5 total in my collection). Ever since Mitch Koran left the Caps, Holtby just hasn’t been the same. But somehow the Canucks don’t really have anything else remotely enticing. He is only under contract for 1 more season and would be a serviceable 1B to serve with Driedger.

So for those of you keeping score:

Zucker (PIT)Gourde (TBL)Eberle (NYI)
Domi (CBJ)Donskoi (COL)
Kerfoot (TOR)
Donato (SJS)Cousins (NSH)Fisher (ARI)
Benson (EDM)Bastian (NJD)
Grundstrom (LAK)Gauthier (NYR)
Caamano (DAL)
NHL Forwards are bold
Giordano (CGY)Stetcher (DET)
Zadorov (CHI)
Miller (BUF)
Lauzon (BOS)
NHL Defense in bold
Driedger (FLA)
Holtby (VAN)
NHL Goaltenders are bold

Just to recap: After sourcing all the confirmed, obvious and obscure selections, we’re down to the final-8 teams. We still need a top-6 LW, a middle-6 RW, at least 1 more RD/LD and a goaltender. Fortunately (or unfortunately), there’s a multitude of solutions to this Rubik’s cube.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

25. ANA: Kevin Shattenkirk (D) or Haydn Fleury (D)?

Henrique might be tempting, especially with scarcity at the center position. However, we got the position well-covered. I personally think Shattenkirk would be a safer selection. He is $2 million cheaper, contract expires a year earlier and is a good bottom-4 right-handed defensemen, which we do need. If they are thinking longer term, Haydn Fleury could be a future starter.

26. MIN: Kaapo Kahkonen (G) or Carson Soucy (LD)?

There’s an argument to be made for taking Victor Rask/Nick Njugstad (weak center options), Carson Soucy (6.5 GAR), or Kaapo Kahkonen. Kahkonen would be a goalie in the mix next season after Holtby is a free agent or traded at the deadline. I’ll circle back to this one later because the main event is…

27. PHI: OMG JVR (LW)

Philly offers some of the most intriguing options. Jakub Voraceck is still an elite playmaker. James van Riemsdyk is slightly cheaper (1.25m) with one less year on his contract. Shayne Gostisbehere could use a change of scenery and has top-4 star potential. Not to jump too far ahead of myself, but if the rumors of a pick-and-trade of Tarasenko are real, this makes this selection even more interesting. I’m not going to try and predict trades and take the highest priority position: LW.

28. STL: Vladimir Tarasenko (RW) or Vince Dunn (D)?

I’m agonizing over this selection because it is much harder than it looks. If Tarasenko wasn’t coming off 2 straight injury-plagued seasons, this wouldn’t be a choice at all (probably because he would have been protected). If I’m Seattle, I’m thoroughly vetting his injury history and if it looks clear, run the card to the (metaphorical) stage. Prior to the past 2 seasons, his GAR was 22.7, 13.6, 13.2, 13.9 and 10.9. If there’s question marks, Vince Dunn is a good consolation prize. He took a huge step backwards in offensive production this past season, but is still young (24) and worth a shot to rebound. Keep an eye on UFA Jaden Schwartz, if they sign him – and they could use a LW – this is all moot.

29. WSH: Conor Sheary (LW) or Nick Jensen (D)?

Nick Jenson has been criminally undervalued by the Caps and would give SEA some real options at right defense, including a trade. Sheary is a very cheap bottom-3 LW locked in for the next 2 seasons.

30. WPG: Mason Appleton (RW) or Dylan DeMelo (D)?

See above. Dylan DeMelo is the truth and well-rounded right-handed defensemen are a valuable commodity. I could see them going either way here, but I would be shocked to see both Jensen and DeMelo taken, unless they have a buyer lined up.

So here’s my final predictions:

Zucker (PIT)Gourde (TBL)Eberle (NYI)
JVR (PHI)Domi (CBJ)*Tarasenko (STL)*
Sheary (WSH)Kerfoot (TOR)Donskoi (COL)
Donato (SJS)Cousins (NSH)Fisher (ARI)
Benson (EDM)Bastian (NJD)
Grundstrom (LAK)Gauthier (NYR)
Caamano (DAL)
NHL Forwards are bold
*Trade Bait
Giordano (CGY)DeMelo (WPG)
Zadorov (CHI)Stetcher (DET)
Kulak (MTL)Miller (BUF)*
Lauzon (BOS)Shattenkirk (ANA)
Brown (OTT)*
NHL Defense in bold
*Trade Bait
Driedger (FLA)
Holtby (VAN)
Kahkonen (MIN)
NHL Goaltenders are bold

This roster is barely cap compliant with only $83,334 dollars to spare. They could easily clear $10 million in cap with a few simple trades and their RFAs (Benson, Donato, Caamano, Bean and Zadorov) aren’t going to be super pricey to re-sign. Tarasenko, just to name one, is a luxury pick that should draw quite a bit of attention. If you think this team looks dangerous already, don’t forget they have the #2 overall pick in the 2021 NHL draft. They should be able to land Matthew Beniers or William Eklund, which would boost the center spot and provide some insurance if Domi doesn’t work out.

Playoff Primer Part 2/2 (Regular Season Success)

Happy NHL Playoffs Eve!

If you haven’t checked out part 1 of the primer, you’re missing out on an exploration of NHL home ice advantage in the regular season v. playoffs. In part 2, I’m going to be exploring the relationship between regular season success and playoff success across the NHL, NBA and NFL. In other words, how much “parity” do we see between the playoffs and regular season? In this case, what I mean by “parity” is the relationship between regular season and playoff success. I capture this phenomenon by looking at the average regular season winning% of playoff teams in the NFL, NBA and NHL (data courtesy of hockey, baseball and football reference):

Average Regular Season Winning% of Playoff Teams

What does this mean? Since the NFL only has 12 total playoff teams compared to the 16 of the NBA and NHL, it is to be expected that the average NFL playoff team is well above average. However, when we compare the NHL and NBA over the past 18 years, the average NBA playoff team tended to be better than the average NHL playoff team – until 2012. This trend shifted quite drastically in 2012, with the average NHL playoff team outperforming the average NBA playoff team in the regular season.

What if we limit our scope from all playoff teams to the regular season winning% of conference finalists (the final-4):

Regular Season Winning% of Final-4

While the NFL still reigns supreme with the highest average regular season winning% of their Conference Championship participants, they did fall below average twice in the past 18 years (2008 and 2010). Just to refresh your memory, the 2008 NFL NFC Championship featured the 9-6-1 Philadelphia Eagles and 9-7 Arizona Cardinals. That year, the final-4 boasted a combined 65% winning percentage, lowest in the league’s past 18 years, but still more than the average NHL Conference Finals team. Speaking of which, the NHL was below average (and at the bottom of the list) every season except 2012. This featured the (somewhat) anti-climatic Conference Finals that included two #1 seeds (Pittsburgh and Chicago), the 4th best team in the league (Boston) and Los Angeles. In other words, the NHL appears to have the most unpredictable outcomes in the playoffs of these three leagues. But wait there’s more…It’s time for the main event: The difference between regular season winning% of the average final-4 team relative to the average playoff team.

Difference Between Regular Season Winning% of Final-4 and Average Playoff Team

The impact of this chart is to identify the “parity” within each of the leagues by calculating the difference in regular season winning% of final-4 teams to their respective leagues’ average winning% of all playoff teams. There’s a few conclusions that we can draw from this chart: (1) The NBA is the most predictable sport in this regard. This should come as no surprise to anyone that follows basketball – the best teams seem to almost always advance to the conference finals, with 2 notable exceptions: 2006 and 2009. In 2006, while Detroit and Cleveland occupied the top-2 seeds in the East, there was a major shocker out west with the 8th seeded Warriors upsetting the Mavs in the first round. Something similar happened in 2009, with the top-seeded Cavs upset in the second round by Boston and the 2nd-seeded Mav’s getting dunked on (pun intended) by the Spurs in the first round. While a couple of 1/2/3 seeds being upset isn’t really that exciting for the NHL or NFL, for the NBA it’s the only evidence of relative unpredictability that we have. (2) The NHL has the most unpredictability in the playoffs of any sport. It is rare (like 2012) that successful regular season teams advance to the conference championship. On four different occasions (2009, 2011, 2013 and 2016), the average final-4 team was actually worse than the average NHL playoff team. The only other league to accomplish this feat was the NFL, who holds the record for most chaotic playoff of the past 18 years in 2008. (3) Speaking of the NFL, there’s a lot more variation than other sports, , which is a product of a single-elimination playoff format.

In sum: The NHL and NBA are more predictable (for very different reasons). The regular season is less predictive of a deep playoff run in the NHL and more so for the NBA. Whereas, the NFL is just a total crap shoot year-to-year. With 24 teams in the NHL Playoffs this year, we should actually expect some chaos based on what we’ve seen in previous seasons.

Playoff Primer Part 1/2 (Home Ice Advantage)

Welcome to Stanley Cup Playoffs Week!

Beginning on Saturday, August 1 at 12:00 PM EST, the New York Rangers and Carolina Hurricanes kick off the insanity of this year’s COVID Olympics, also known as the Stanley Cup Playoffs. All games are being played at Rogers Place (Edmonton) and Scotiabank Place (Toronto), with Western teams playing at the former and Eastern teams at the latter. That means that only two teams will actually enjoy all the luxuries of “home ice advantage” – Toronto and Edmonton. The rules regarding home ice advantage will remain the same as any other season, with the higher seed afforded the benefits of “home ice advantage” in 4 games of the best-of-7 series (3 of the 5 in the first round).

These benefits include:
(1) Last change – The home team makes player substitutions after the visiting team between stoppages of play
(2) Faceoffs – The centre from the visiting team must put their stick on the ice first
(3) Rink familiarity

Continue reading “Playoff Primer Part 1/2 (Home Ice Advantage)”

Contracts and Corsi

Even though the NHL season is in the midst of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, it’s not too early to think about the off-season festivities of the NHL draft and free agency.  One of the unique features of the NHL is that it is the most cap constrictive sport.  This is in part because of three features: (1) the presence of a hard salary cap, (2) the nature of guaranteed contracts and (3) limited and no-trade clauses.  The combination of these three factors separate the NHL from other leagues, namely the MLB, NFL and NBA.  Other leagues have mechanisms for restructuring contracts, the lack of guaranteed money and/or soft salary cap restrictions.

How this translates to differentiate the NHL from other leagues is that the salary cap is the great equalizer, which can empower or impoverish a franchise with a few decisions.  Aside from the compliance buyouts offered in the wake of the previous CBA, there are limited options for a team to jettison a player signed to a bad contract.  Teams that sign players to long-term, big money contracts are held most accountable in the NHL, with limited options of movement that can hamstring a franchise for years.

Thanks to war-on-ice.com, I was able to analyze the relationship between Corsi values (shots taken for/against while on the ice/off the ice) and annual contract values for players.  First, I map the Corsi for (herein CF) and Corsi against (herein CA) values on a (x,y) plot.  The size of the bubbles (for each player) are relative to the value of their contract.

Overview

Continue reading “Contracts and Corsi”

Does the NHL Preseason Matter?

Another NHL preseason has been completed and the regular season is set to start tonight. Upon looking over the point standings in the preseason, it is shocking to see teams like Toronto and Columbus leading their respective divisions (albeit they played more games than other teams within their divisions).  This led me to search for a correlation between preseason and regular season success.  After mulling through the myriad amount of information available for other sports, namely the NFL, it led me to create my own.  Once collecting the data, I was able to run some common statistical tests using STATA.  Unfortunately, the relationship was extremely weak.  I produced a graph to illustrate the results below.  In order to account for the difference in the number of games played in the preseason, I measure success using a points per game variable.  This can be compared to the points per game each team earns in the regular season.

Sheet 1

Link: https://public.tableausoftware.com/views/Preseason_Regular_Points/Sheet1

Continue reading “Does the NHL Preseason Matter?”